A group of European MEPs, including Nessa Childers, are asking the EU not to renew the licence for glyphosate, as doubts have been cast over the neutrality of studies used to assess its safety.
This comes after a US federal court unsealed documents which seem to show Monsanto, the company behind the world's best-selling glyphosate product Roundup, manipulating studies and reversing a planned EPA safety review. The case is being taken by a group of people who have developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma which they claim is a result of contact with glyphosate.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) concluded in March that glyphosate does not cause cancer, which was also the conclusion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2016. But they both used studies that are now believed to have been ghost-written by Monsanto.
In 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. This was after a review of studies into chemical safety by a worldwide panel of expert scientists working for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, under the auspices of the WHO. They found credible evidence that linked glyphosate with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Court documents revealed that the head of the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) at that time, Jess Rowland, tipped off Monsanto months in advance of the IARC publishing their findings. This allowed Monsanto an opportunity to prepare a response.
Released emails show Monsanto officials trying to decide between paying independent experts $250,000 to create studies or writing up their own studies and getting a reputable scientist to add their name to it. Monsanto executive William F Heydens told his fellow executives in one email: “We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.”
One study published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology said that panel members were chosen by a consulting firm, but the unsealed documents reveal executives discussing who should be included. The emails also show Monsanto executives saying that Rowland had promised he would repel an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services, to conduct its own glyphosate safety review. One Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins said that Rowland told him, “If I can kill this, I should get a medal.”
Monsanto denies the allegations that glyphosate is carcinogenic and it also denies ghost-writing studies. The case continues. Meanwhile European MEPs have made a freedom of information request to see the studies for themselves. "The health of our citizens is too important to be gambled on," said Belgian MEP Bart Staes, a spokesperson on food safety.